One night in summer 2011, a group of 20 or so programmers were sitting by a fountain on the streets of Cologne, Germany, drinking beer and brainstorming code after a developer conference. They were the core members of the early open source Node.js community, a devout group of uber nerds obsessed with fixing Node in their spare time.
Ben Noordhuis and Bert Belder were among that group of early adopters drinking beer late into the night in Cologne. They knew they were onto something, but they had little idea that in a few years the language they were building would become one of the hottest things to hit programming since Ruby on Rails.
Noordhuis and Belder were two of the original contributors to Node.js, and when Isaac Roth from Shasta Ventures met them through an acquaintance, he encouraged them to build a company. That led to StrongLoop being launched at the end of 2012 and, under Roth’s guidance, incubated at Shasta Ventures.
It’s trying to be the number one platform (and brand) for Node.js, and the place companies turn to for help. If the company succeeds, it might do for Node.js what Red Hat did for Linux: professionalize it. At least, that’s what Roth is hoping, since Red Hat’s the last project he tackled.
But developers Noordhuis and Belder aren’t thinking much about success now. They’re mellow dudes who were caught off guard when I asked them questions about themselves — like why they got involved with Node.js, or what their newfound fame is like.
Despite being super star developers, they’re not exactly basking in the Silicon Valley limelight since they live in the Netherlands. They’re self-described “alpha geeks” who got into Node.js because of the “cool factor” of being ahead of the rest of the techie pack.
“Honestly, I didn’t even realize the mobile angle till later, when other companies were bringing it up,” Noordhuis says. “You eventually figure out that’s where the money is.”
Investor Roth didn’t have that problem. After meeting Belder and Noordhuis and doing some research on Node.js he immediately saw the market viability. “LinkedIn, eBay, Conde Nast, they’re all using Node,” he says. “Usually you’re clawing to get your best customers, but here we have something everyone’s already using.”
StrongLoop just announced the release of its Node.js inspector tool, and the acquisition of the monitoring platform NodeFly. Some companies are paying Node.js for consultation, but at the moment the startup isn’t focusing on revenue. First, it wants to build its brand and become known as the go-to Node.js experts. Then it believes the money will come.
Anyone familiar with Node.js might cry foul — Joyent is the company traditionally associated with Node.js expertise. Joyent sponsored original Node.js creator Ryan Dahl to work on Node.js. But in 2012, he got burnt out and left the Node community. His absence left a leadership void, one that was partially filled by well-known Node.js programmer Isaac Schlueter (also sponsored by Joyent).
But Joyent’s main mission isn’t to develop and professionalize Node.js – it’s a much bigger cloud computing company, and Belder says he believes it only employs two engineers to work on Node.js full-time. In contrast, StrongLoop employs 25 who work full-time on improving the language and developing tools to make it easier for companies to use Node.js.
“There used to be this gag where Ryan would say, ‘Were going for world domination.’ That was a joke because there was only ten users or 100,” Belder said. “But nowadays, what I start to realize is that we might actually go for world domination.”
There’s a shifting space where everyone’s going mobile, and many believe Node.js is the best tool for that particular job. “World domination is what I’m after. Then I will obviously retire,” Belder says.
“As a millionaire,” Noordhuis adds.
Belder laughed. “Everyone likes to see his baby grow up and become the next big thing.”
Watch Noorhius and Belder talk about their work in this short profile video:
Image: Used by permission from Not Invented Here